Joe had learned so much during his eight years of college on his academic journey towards becoming a veterinarian. He had done an internship at the local vet’s office the past two summers, before being assigned a post at a remote location in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. Part of the agreement to have his education paid for was that he would serve 5 years in an area that desperately needed a vet.
Joe met the old woman whose practice was serving the community. He tried to filter out his biases against her gender and age, but this was a difficult thing to do, as Dr. Carol had been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s a year ago (the talkative office lady told him) and was on a fast train to dementia. When Joe went out on calls to the farms they served, Dr. Carol often would forget what she was doing halfway through and Joe was expected to finish the procedure.
On one particularly complicated case, they’d sedated a wounded horse, fitted her up into a sling, and took a good look at the wound on her side, which resembled a salad that had been put into a food processor with beets. Dr. Carol correctly diagnosed depth of injury and the procedure they needed to do and carefully laid out the instruments they would be using. Dr. Carol then walked over to the van and drove away, leaving Joe to carry out the treatment. Joe’s stomach lurched as he had only seen it done once before and had not assisted. The owner of the horse stood nearby, anxious and confused as to why Dr. Carol left. Joe winged it and said she was headed back to the office to get the IV antibiotics the horse would need right away. He then asked the owner to please leave the barn while he worked.
Joe’s mind had to shift gears. He had to detach from the emotions he was feeling and click into his medical mind and the lessons that were just words on paper until then. Taking a deep breath, he commenced the procedure. He was able to remove the string of barbed wire that was embedded in the horse’s side, irrigate the wound, cauterize the still bleeding capillaries in the area, then successfully sutured the wound. Joe inserted the IV into the horse’s vein and started the antibiotic drip.
Joe called his wife, synopsized the situation, and asked her to find Dr. Carol and bring her back to the farm. Once Dr. Carol was back to the farm, Joe went to the house to get the owner, whom he instructed on aftercare. He kept Filly, the horse, who was still sedated, in the sling and told the owner he would be back later that evening to check on her. Then he and Dr. Carol left the farm, with Mrs. Joe following.
When Dr. Carol & Joe got back to the office, they had a conversation. Joe said, “Carol, I am very much hoping you understand that your time as a vet is over, as much as it pains me to be the one to say it. If you agree to stop practicing as of right now, there will be no need for me to call anyone aside from whoever will find someone to take your place here.”
Dr. Carol said, “Young man, I’m not sure who you are or why we’re here, but if you need to make a call I saw a phone in the other room.”
Twenty-five years of veterinary practice later, Joe still has that piece of barbed wire as a keepsake.